Many are familiar with the hot disputes over the identity of Soma, the magical elixir praised in India’s Rig Veda, and the speculations that it involved a psychoactive plant. The Persian equivalent, Haoma, has also witnessed botanical speculations about its true identity. Why not search for an equivalent in the most archaic corner of Western Europe’s Indo-European heritage, Ireland? Indeed, says Wilson, and ploughs right in.

Wilson’s unabashed romanticism and fondness for funghi serve him well. Being up-front about his personal investments lets him be more honest in his research and speculation. He’s constitutionally unafraid of weaving poetic webs of resonance between Celtic lore and other Indo-European sources, and while these webs are very dense, you never get the sense that he’s losing his sense in them. He wisely introduces the concept of the “Soma-function”, arguing that whatever the actual identity of any plants involved in these ancient rites (we’ll never know for sure), we can be sure that some form of religiously-inspiring shift in consciousness was involved. And the container for this shift—a plant, a ritual, a yogic practice, or some combination—is ultimately less important than the reality of its function.

A nice little book for anyone enamoured of linguistic archaeology, and the opening up of prehistory into multiple possibilities instead of closing it down into dull facts and cautions against uncertain assertions.